Should I elope?
June 22, 2009 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Should I elope to avoid potential drama?

My fiance and I are both in our mid thirties. His mother is his only living parent, and she is a lovely, lovely person. The rest of his family is small, less than ten people. My family, while not enormous, is larger. Both of my parents are living, but I do not have close relationships with either of them. My mother is mentally ill, and my father is just a difficult person. I see them fairly frequently, at least monthly, so it's not the kind of situation where we don't talk at all. We just don't talk about anything personal, if that makes any sense.

My fiance and I have talked about eloping by ourselves, just going somewhere and getting married, and that seems like the practical choice for convenience, our finances, and lack of immediate drama. But... I keep thinking that I would like the parts of my family that are not crazy to be there when I get married. I'm not talking about a big wedding, just a small ceremony followed by dinner.

My relationship with my fiance is a contentious issue with my parents; I am white, and he is black. The rest of my family does not have this problem. There are members of his family that are not particularly thrilled by his choice of spouses, but I feel fairly certain that they will keep that to themselves. I cannot trust my mother in this regard. I believe that my father will be a little more circumspect, but I can't actually guarantee either of them will come if I invite them. I'm afraid my mother is going to say something absolutely horrible and make people uncomfortable.

Has anyone been in this situation before? What did you end up doing, and would you have handled it differently?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They don't sound like "I was so hurt to miss out on your special day" kind of parents.

posted by Joe Beese at 9:36 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is your day - "your" being plural - being you and your fiance.
Perhaps it would be nice to invite your parents but if there is a chance that they will ruin your day, then forget about it.

Normally, I am all about forgiveness and compromise. But heck, a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event, for you and your husband to be. It's not worth taking any chances that will ruin it for him.

Seconding "Elope".
posted by bitteroldman at 9:46 AM on June 22, 2009

take his mom.

or, rent a suite at a fancy hotel in your area. invite whoever will perform the ceremony, his mom and maybe one other person as a witness. have a small reception afterward with the friends and and family you and your fiance choose.
posted by jessica at 9:46 AM on June 22, 2009

Small courthouse wedding with friends, or even his mother, present, and offer to celebrate with each set of parents (separately) later? I have a different but similarly awkward family situation, and while I'm not even close to marriage, I'm definitely going to consider that when/if the time comes.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2009

Elope, throw the party later with his family and selected members of yours who can be trusted to keep the peace. Appoint bouncers in case Aunt Mabel lets slip to your parents.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was in a very similar situation - my parents are not emotionally healthy, and we are not close. I was in my mid-thirties as well. My fiance's family was healthier, but he is very independent. When we got engaged, I tried to imagine a wedding where my parents *didn't* create drama and one I did not dread. I couldn't.

We eloped to the Caribbean. I put on a white bikini and he had white island-pants on and we had a great photographer take our "wedding" photos on the beach. Afterwards, we said our vows to each other. It was fantastic!

We told everyone afterward. Note: I am not a "wedding" kind of girl and didn't really care about missing that at ALL. We had a party in someone's backyard for friends and family a couple of months later. I don't regret a thing and have the best wedding photos ever!

Good luck; I know it is tough. If you think your parents have significant potential to create a scene, as mine did, you'll be so much more relaxed eloping. You can have a casual party later - I think the casual party atmosphere marks the occasion but diffuses some of the drama of a WEDDING.
posted by Punctual at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

I've always though that a wedding, the coming together of two people to basically start a new family, is family business.

If people want to elope because eloping is what they want, I say go for it. But if you're thinking about eloping just to avoid drama that possibly will happen and possibly will not, well then I guess maybe you should give the small ceremony with family and friends a chance.

Whatever you choose, felicidades for your engagement.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2009

Totally. Courthouse.

You can always have people over individually to celebrate, over dinner or something. It won't look bad if you go out with just his mom, for example, but if you have some inclusive, official dinner and leave people out, that'd be unnecessary drama.
posted by Nattie at 9:59 AM on June 22, 2009

One of the best things Mrs. Silvertree and I did was elope. By ourselves. Nobody else was invited.
posted by Silvertree at 10:00 AM on June 22, 2009

Compromise - elope and invite the family. If you and your folks aren't particularly close, they may not want to fork out the money to go somewhere with you. Pick a destination relatively close so that the non-crazy family is more likely to make the trip with you. We got married away and our most important friends/family made the trip with us. It made it much easier to explain to the 3rd cousins and hairdresser's friend's brother why they weren't invited to the wedding.
posted by tryniti at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

My uncle did that with his first wedding....the only two members of his family present were my mother and my step uncle (his half brother).
posted by brujita at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2009

You can't invite some and not others without starting big drama - especially not if it's bring one parent, ditch the other.

I'm a big proponent of eloping in general, from both a financial and emotional perspective. Financially because it's a lot of money that you could spend on the rest of your lives together. emotionally because it keeps the focus where it should be - on you and him and the joining thereunto. Weddings tend to become about other people and or the bride, and really, as far as I'm concerned the two of you should be able to focus on each other and the bond you are creating - not placemats and politics and bridezillas.

So: yes, elope. Otherwise there will be drama either from the guests or from the uninvited guests, and the butterflies in your stomach will be an ulcer instead of love.
posted by Billegible at 10:26 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do as you please, not them. Trust me on this.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:41 AM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Elope and then hold some sort of party/reception a few months down the road, after the dust has settled.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:44 AM on June 22, 2009

I had a similar issue (not exact) and we eloped - I was 29, he was 31, both of us v. independent and parents were, thrilled. Best thing we ever did. 10 years later, I do not regret it for a moment.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2009

My husband and I recently got married and did not tell anyone until after it was over. It was absolutely perfect and beautiful. It saved a lot of money, saved us a lot of aggravation and because everyone was treated equally, there was no room for people to complain. Mr. Murrey's mom expressed some minor disappointment at not being there but said she understood. Because the deed was already done, there was really nothing more she could say, right?

We did this even though there was no potential drama in the making. Decide as a couple what you want your wedding day to be like and do that. But in my experience, the simple, just-the-two-of-us wedding can be, as I said above, absolutely perfect and beautiful.

And congrats on your engagement. Enjoy it!
posted by murrey at 11:41 AM on June 22, 2009

My husband and I eloped to avoid family drama (and to keep expenses low because we were broke at the time) as well. I'm very close to my mother so I told her and gave her the opportunity to be there (she couldn't and that was sad). We also invited a few close friends to attend the ceremony and then dinner afterward.

I sometimes do wish that we had had a more conventional ceremony, mostly because I had been planning one in my head since I was little and I would have liked to have my mother there. I don't regret that we eloped though, because it would have taken much longer (possibly a couple years) for us to get married if we had to save up and get people in town. Ultimately, we just wanted to be married. We didn't want to deal with the drama of who would and would not be invited from our families or dump a ton of money on one day. I still get a little giddy and relieved when I think about what we would have had to go through. Our wedding was about us, not other people. I like that.

What we do is make our anniversary a really big deal most years. We travel or spend time with people we love and celebrate our marriage that way.

Good luck whatever you decide to do!
posted by Kimberly at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Elope. Only inform the family later, and in a casual way, under circumstances which will allow you to leave if drama erupts (postcard, letter, email, phone call).
posted by VikingSword at 11:46 AM on June 22, 2009

Weddings really aren't just about couples - they are about families, even disfunctional ones.

My father eloped (in his second marriage) and did not intend to invite me; I was added last minute because I answered the phone for my brother (who was a witness, and thus invited). Though, in the end, I attended, I am still hurt by the idea that he wished to exclude me. And his parents were deeply hurt that he excluded them.

It's not about the party, or the dinner - it's about witnessing what is an important ritual which affects your whole family. Though he has since broken up with his second wife, she is and always will be a part of my family, if she wants to be.

I understand that you are worried about your mother's behaviour, which is understandable. Perhaps you could have a serious talk with her, though if she is mentally ill, this may have no effect.

But please don't dismiss the feelings of your family (as so many at metafilter seem to do).
posted by jb at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Only you know what you want.

If you've been dreaming of a wedding for many years and kept a mental list of your future wedding (colors, bridesmaids, locales) you may want to honor that. Regarding the possibility of unpleasantness re your mother's comments with your new in-laws: I just attended a wedding and the two families didn't even interact with each other much. Each family socialized with their own friends & family, which is just fine, so maybe you could do the seating arrangement to ensure this?

We eloped because I wanted to marry my husband, but had no desire for the rigamarole: I never had a wedding "vision," never wanted to spend thousands of dollars on a white dress & flowers, overpriced photos, etc, etc. And our wedding was just about us, at the courthouse, and it was wonderful and I cried and it was all I wanted.

Having our families there just really wasn't important to us because we celebrated later with a dinner for the two families, which was extremely comfortable and relaxed because there wasn't all the pressure & stress of a full-on wedding (renting tuxedos, bridesmaid dress fittings, dyeing shoes to match, and on). And the intimate size made for really nice conversation and a true meeting of the families.

So honestly ask yourself what you want, trust it'll all work out, and do it.
posted by Pocahontas at 12:26 PM on June 22, 2009

I think it depends on the nature of the family relationship, jb--if the OP were close to her parents and decided to elope, that would be odd. However, if the OP is intentionally emotionally distant from her parents, then it follows that that distance carries over into one of the more emotional life events (getting married), particularly if the parents are likely to make that event unpleasant. No one is required to make him or herself emotionally vulnerable to someone he or she knows will take advantage of that. If the OP has reason to believe that her parents will behave inappropriately at her wedding, then it makes sense to take steps to avoid that situation. Elopement followed by a later celebration (so that the fiance's mom and family have a chance to celebrate the marriage) makes sense because inviting the fiance's mom, but not the OP's parents would apparently invite additional drama.

I get that a wedding isn't just about the couple, that it is about the whole newly-joined family. But giving difficult and drama-prone parents a forum in which to undermine one's celebration of a marriage commitment seems unwise and unnecessary. So, another vote for an elopement.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:28 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, FWIW, ours is a "mixed" marriage.
posted by Pocahontas at 12:28 PM on June 22, 2009

I absolutely see why eloping seems like a good option, and it may be the best option. But before you decide, may I present a different perspective:

Marriage is so much more than just the wedding day, which I'm sure you know. But the wedding can be very important in setting the stage for your lives together as a couple and a family. By eloping, you're basically saying 'we're doing this for us, whether you like it or not'. If you were to invite both your families to the wedding, you would be saying 'we're starting our life together as a family and would like you to be a part of it and come share the day with us'. Do you want your family to feel excluded from your new married life? If yes, eloping is the right answer. If no, then I think you'll be better off inviting them. (Do not invite just one set of parents - that is horribly offensive.)

It sounds to me that you'd prefer to have your parents and family present, but you're not sure that they'll behave. So I think that's exactly what I'd say to my parents, if I were you: 'Mom, dad, we'd love for you to be there to witness the start of our new life together - but only if you can be supportive. If not, we'd prefer to elope.'

I had a somewhat similar situation with my same-sex marriage. In the end my mom decided not to come, and my wife's parents as well. But the rest of our families were there along with all of our friends, and it was wonderful. My wife's parents have since come around and I'm very glad we extended the invitation at the time - they're the ones having to make things up with us (not coming) rather than us to them (by not inviting them).

Good luck!
posted by widdershins at 12:39 PM on June 22, 2009 [6 favorites]

meg - I'm not that close to my father (he was non-custodial, and somewhat neglectful), but I was still hurt by his thoughtless plan to exclude me. Thoughtless in the sense that he didn't plan to exclude me specifically, but just thought about how much easier it would be for him and his fiance, and didn't think about how much it would hurt his family. And I am still his family - I don't know that I would chose to be his friend, but I love him as my father. I'm sure that the OP's parents, as difficult as they can be, love her just as much. Not to mention the OP's in-laws, who love their own son.

And it's not the same to be invited to a party after. Given a choice, I would rather attend the ceremony and miss the party than to have it the other way around. Maybe it is because I take marriage vows very seriously - in the Western tradition, the vows are the magical moment of joining. Anything else is just frippery. Fun frippery, but non-essential.
posted by jb at 12:43 PM on June 22, 2009

jb--we may both be bringing our own baggage to this. My own wedding excluded a couple of biologically-close (think sibling, grandparent, etc.) but emotionally-estranged relatives on both sides. We thought about what it would mean to have them there and chose not to invite them. It wasn't for convenience or out of selfishness; it was after a thoughtful examination of what our wedding would be with them there and without them there. These relatives had shown us that they were not merely difficult, but rather that whatever love they might have for us did not overpower their impulses to do hurtful things toward us and to create drama. "Love" doesn't mean much if it is paired with unkind behavior, hurtful language, insensitivity to others, and a resolute unwillingness to change, compromise, or apologize. (Which isn't to comment on your genuine love for your father, but rather my relative's "love" for me. Nor do I think it was right of your father to exclude you--I think it would be a different story if he had had good reason to think you'd make his otherwise happy day a miserable one.)

And there are difficult relatives we did invite--I understand the whole "difficult as they can be, they still love you" thing. But my point to the OP is that if the behavior and choices of a relative, no matter how closely related, will bring more negative than positive to what should be a joyous occasion, such as a marriage, then she should do what she needs to do without feeling guilty about excluding people who, by their past and current behavior, are really excluding themselves.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:29 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, congratulations! And second - sit down and talk about what's really important to you both, and what your main concerns are with various family members. If no one's going to be wildly upset if you two go off and have the ceremony on your own then I'd focus on doing whatever would make you the most happy. I'd definitely make this choice if some of the relatives can't handle being in the same room with each other - or if you think that worrying about this will cause you a lot of stress. If you have none of them at the ceremony then no one can later play the "you love them more!" card. Also you can always set aside some time after you're married and go visit the relatives that will truly be happy for you and want to see you to talk and congratulate you. Go with what will best suit you money-wise and stress-wise. And you can always have a party/cookout/reception at the location of your choice, anytime within the year after you get married. That way you can include anyone who may feel hurt at the idea of not being included somehow - and you can explain that in the invitation to everyone.

When I got married the fiance had previously done the wedding thing more than once (and was really leery), so I wanted something painless for him and to avoid having to invite every relative my mother was worrying about offending by not asking to the ceremony. We were planning to elope to Vegas simply because it's close to us and because the major hotels offer package deals with all the photos, cake, etc. taken care of. That way I'd have plenty of photos to choose from and send to the parents. When my mother at the last minute decided it was going to be just too awful to miss out on her only child's wedding (but ah ha! I saw that coming!) it was easy enough to bump the wedding party from the two of us to ten people. I managed to pull it together in about three months, and husband got to pick the restaurant to have dinner in. Vegas can indeed be stupidly cheesy and tacky - but we were able to do simple and mostly tasteful - even while surrounded by fake French architecture. Also I was able to wear plastic bats in my hair and no one even looked at me twice. Er, of course it was October.

Punctual: "Note: I am not a "wedding" kind of girl and didn't really care about missing that at ALL."

You know, I think there are probably actually a LOT of women like this - and I felt exactly this same way, and still do. I think it's because we're all very quiet about the whole thing that people don't realize not every female insists upon a huge costume drama/musical of a wedding.

posted by batgrlHG at 1:48 PM on June 22, 2009

The most important thing is to do what works for you and your intended spouse.

The second most important thing to do is to respect others' feelings and treat them with candor and politeness.

If those two things come into conflict, the first is the Prime Directive when it comes to weddings.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:27 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

The first time around, my mother made my life crazy for the full six months up to the wedding, first insisting that she was coming, then calling to dither about post-9/11 flying, then calling to dither about her fear of travel in general, then calling to say she wasn't coming, then calling to say she would just have to suck it up and show up. She repeated this cycle approximately 10 times in those six months, and then called three days before to whine about how she would have loooooved to come, but it was just too late.

The second time around, Mr. F's parents requested that they be notified at least 24 hours in advance, and mine were told that they didn't have to show up, because we wouldn't want them to put themselves out.

If that's the sort of crazy you're talking about, Anon-- where your mother's illness is going to be on display front and center the entire time-- I'm definitely reiterating my first comment. Weddings may be all about family for a lot of people, but for a lot of family members, weddings are all about them and their worst possible behavior.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:46 PM on June 22, 2009

A lot of people are saying this is about your family, not about you - and I agree. This is about your family - the one you and your fiance are taking steps to create right now. If you two, as thoughtful, rational, loving individuals, feel that the best thing to do is to elope, you must put your family first and do that - and love every minute of it. Do not include the racists you're related to if it will start your new family life off with anger, hurt, resentment, and exclusion. I think that when you decide to marry someone, you are deciding now that, in most situations, they are going to be your first priority - and this is an essential time to make that clear, with your first decision. If you both feel that you want to include your families, or only one of them, do that. But do what is right for your new, budding family - that is the way to make the best choice.

(FWIW, I always advocate eloping, although I didn't do that myself - you dispense with the debt, you dispense with the drama, and you're almost certain to have great memories!)
posted by mccn at 6:12 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Courthouse with close friends and his mother there. Then go on honeymoon and have the celebration with the other members of the family that aren't hostile at your leisure on your return.

Congratulations and enjoy the day!
posted by arcticseal at 6:48 PM on June 22, 2009

It really comes down to how you (and your families) deal with ritual, as that is what a wedding is/was. In this modern age, many rituals have disappeared, dwindled, or changed. Weddings are one of those things that is more dependent on your culture than anything else. If it is something that you feel is not honoring your culture, then maybe you would choose to go through the uncomfortableness and risk for the sake of tradition in your community. If you are more modern, and define your own wedding on it's own terms, then absolutely create it in a way that is going to bring the most joy to you and your future husband.

(for example, in my 'art world' culture, a 'traditional wedding' isn't very culturally significant, yet a wedding in a river, Vegas chapel, mariachi hosted is. Also acceptable are not being married, eloping, etc. )
posted by Vaike at 7:29 PM on June 22, 2009

I'm going to take a different route: weekday courthouse ritual with parents as witnesses, so that family is invited to the "wedding" but there's little emotional value attached (on your side, at least) to the ceremony itself. Mom can say what she'll say; make sure your Mom-in-law is prepared for that.

Then throw a party with a more selective guest list to meet your "wedding day" desires.
posted by samthemander at 11:03 PM on June 22, 2009

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